When you have a project to do or a mission to accomplish, how do you view obstacles and opposition? Do you see insurmountable barriers forcing you to quit, or do you see hurdles challenging you to jump and keep going? In his project to rebuild the wall around the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah was faced with a number of obstacles and significant enemy opposition. If we had been in Nehemiah's sandals, many of us would have thrown in the towel because of the obstacles and opposition. Some of us would even have concluded that God had "closed the door," because the obstacles and opposition seemed so great. But Nehemiah did not quit. He saw the obstacles and opposition as hurdles to be overcome in order to complete God's work.
Every type of obstacle and every form of opposition that Nehemiah faced in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem is an illustration from God's Word of the obstacles and opposition that we can expect to face as Christians. When we become involved in serving the Lord and "building the walls" of personal or corporate Christian testimony we will definitely face obstacles and opposition. The steps that Nehemiah took in overcoming the roadblocks that he faced are recorded by the Holy Spirit so that we can learn and follow God's methods for defeating the enemy.
Nehemiah was a godly Jew who lived during the 5th century BC in Susa, the capital of the Persian empire, He was the cupbearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I. In the ancient world this was a very important and prestigious position because the one who was responsible for the king's drink was considered most loyal and trustworthy by the king himself. After all, one of the easiest ways for an assassin to remove a monarch was through poisoning his drink! Thus Nehemiah was probably one of Artaxerxes' most trusted personal advisors. Although Nehemiah "had it made" with such a respected and well-paying job, he was concerned about the problems and struggles of his own people, who were living back in the homeland of the Jewish people.
Nehemiah's concern centered on the city of Jerusalem, whose walls were in ruins. The walls had been destroyed by the Babylonians almost a century and a half before, when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity. The Jewish people who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon following the seventy year exile had completed the rebuilding of their Temple, but the walls of the Holy City remained as piles of rubble.
Even though Nehemiah was physically far removed from the problem, he was determined to do something about the pathetic situation of Jerusalem. Realizing that the troubles of the Jewish people stemmed largely from the fact that their capital city was weak and defenseless, he decided before the Lord to return to Jerusalem himself and, with God's help, direct "Operation Wall." Notice that as far as the inspired record goes, Nehemiah did not receive any specific personal revelation or communication from God to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. However, Nehemiah was right on in his plans because he knew that God did not want His people to be weak and defenseless. He also knew from the prophecy of Daniel, written about 100 years before Nehemiah's time, that Jerusalem was to be rebuilt as a strong city after the people returned from captivity--in spite of obstacles and opposition (Daniel 2:25). As God called Nehemiah to overcome certain obstacles and opposition to meet a special need, He may call us to do the same. Let's not expect some special vision or communication from God. As in the case of Nehemiah, when we are exercised in heart about a particular need or ministry or Christian service project which is in line with God's Word, let's step out in faith and take steps to overcome the obstacles and opposition in order to meet that need or start that new ministry or head up that Christian service project. God will confirm our step of faith by giving us strength and success.
Through prayer and godly dedication and determination, Nehemiah overcame the obstacles associated with obtaining the necessary permission and royal visas. Perhaps he even had to overcome the opposition of family and friends in Persia: "Listen, Nehemiah, God has blessed you and placed you high in the ranks of the Persian emperor's cabinet! It's more important for you to keep your position right here in Susa! Those lazy Jews in Jerusalem should take care of their own broken-down walls!" Be prepared! These kinds of general obstacles and opposition are normal--they "go with the territory" of just about any job you decide to do for the Lord.
With these obstacles behind him, Nehemiah faced the long trip to Jerusalem--about 1,000 miles on horseback! And even before he arrived in Jerusalem we read that two enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah, were very angry that someone had come to help the Jews (2:9). Their displeasure was a harbinger of obstacles and opposition to come. Sanballat and Tobiah were rulers in two of the Persian provinces surrounding the province of Judah. They did not want Jerusalem to become a strong and well-defended city. The prosperity of their own provinces would be adversely affected if trade routes and economic advantages shifted in Jerusalem's direction. And so after Nehemiah had arrived in Jerusalem and successfully challenged the people to rise up and build (no little obstacle in itself!), Sanballat and Tobiah and another enemy ruler, Geshem, began their opposition by mocking and despising the would-be builders (2:18-19). As the wall began to go up (Nehemiah 3), the enemies became furious. Their scorn and ridicule intensified, and even included the taunt that "if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down" (4:1-3)!
When we become involved in serving the Lord and "building the wall" of Christian testimony in any way, we will probably face scorn and derision in one form or another. Have you ever been laughed at for using the Bible as an authoritative resource for daily living? Have you ever been ridiculed for trusting in God? Have you ever been called a "country bumpkin" for believing in creation? Expect to be mocked as a Christian--it's part of the enemy's strategy! Unfortunately many Christians can't handle much scorn and ridicule. They capitulate at the slightest opposition. Even "a little fox jumping on it" can break down their wall!
How did Nehemiah deal with the derision and contempt of the enemy? He prayed specifically about the problem--and he continued to build (4:4-5). Notice that the people did not stop building while they prayed--that would have been playing right into the enemies' hands! Notice also their positive attitude: "The people had a mind to work" (4:6). The determination "to arise and build" which was exhibited when the ridicule began (2:18), continued to characterize the people. No wonder the wall was completed to half its height in spite of the opposition (4:6)! When we as Christians are confronted with mockery, let's maintain our determination and continue to build strong spiritual walls--while we pray.
Widespread discouragement was another obstacle which Nehemiah faced. Although the wall was half completed there was still a lot of work to do, and fatigue and exhaustion were beginning to take their toll (4:10). Furthermore, word was beginning to circulate that the enemy was planning to mount a major attack against Jerusalem before the wall could be completed (4:8). This threat further demoralized and discouraged the people as the rumors and propaganda spread (4:11-12).
Half-way points are always critical. On the one hand you can feel very encouraged when a project is half completed. On the other hand, you can become very discouraged because you are "only half done!" Add threat of attack to half-way point discouragement, and you're bound to get a lot of burnout victims and quitters starting to walk off the job! Nehemiah knew that half-way points are critical and when he saw discouragement and doubt and fear gaining ground among the people he took action. First and foremost, of course, he made sure that the people continued to pray (4:9). Then, in addition to posting an armed guard (4:9,13), he rallied the people with the exhortation to remember their "great and awesome" Lord. He encouraged them not to be afraid, and challenged them to be willing to fight for their families (4:14). Exhortation, encouragement and challenge in the context of prayer is the only sure cure for discouragement and doubt. Are you in a discouraging situation in your church fellowship or in a ministry right now? Are doubts beginning to voice themselves? Is there so much rubble from broken walls of the past that the situation seems impossible? Are some of your fellow believers jumping ship because of fear from enemy threats? Pray specifically about the situation. Do what you can to encourage and challenge your colleagues. Exhort them to "remember the Lord" and the "great and awesome" things He has done in the past. Don't join the pity party, or the obstacles and opposition of the half-way point may never be left behind.
The enemy conspiracy that Nehemiah faced certainly pictures Satan's intensified opposition to stop our spiritual wall-building. If he can't tear down our Christian testimony with mockery and derision, we can expect to face the threat of attack. There may be legal threats against your church or ministry. Your job or career may be threatened in some way because of your commitment to Christ. Your grades and degree may be threatened if you're a Christian student determined to serve Christ on a secular campus. Every Christian who has weathered the storm of enemy contempt knows the threat of enemy conspiracy.
Nehemiah 4:15-23 makes it clear that no matter how great the threat of enemy attack, we should never stop building. Nehemiah took great pains to organize his round-the-clock armed defense of Jerusalem--but he never stopped building the wall. Building and battling go together in spiritual warfare. The importance of staying armed is brought out in these verses as well. Even though God had frustrated the enemies' plan of attack (4:15), the people kept their weapons and armor at the ready. It's hard to miss the obvious spiritual lesson of the importance of spiritual armor. Ephesians 6:10-18 commands that we put on the full armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit to be ready to face and overcome the obstacles and opposition of the enemy.
In chapter 5 we see another obstacle and form of opposition that Nehemiah faced. Some of the more well-to-do people were selfishly refusing to help the poor. Many of the poor people had to mortgage their properties to make ends meet and borrow money to pay their Persian taxes. Times were especially tough because of a famine (5:3), and the fact that everyone was expected to be involved in "Operation Wall." For some the situation was so pressing that they were forced to sell themselves and their children as slaves--similar to the idea of indentured servants. Instead of trying to bring help and relief to these poor folks, the rich and well-to-do were actually taking advantage of the situation. They were holding the land of their fellow Jews and, contrary to Jewish Law, they were charging them high interest rates. (See Leviticus 25:35-43.) Their consciences had become desensitized to the miserable plight of their own brothers.
Nehemiah was forced to confront the obstacle of the selfishness of human nature. We should note Nehemiah's correction procedure carefully, because it is a biblical model for us to follow when faced with similar outbreaks of human nature! After planning his course of action first (always good advice), Nehemiah publicly renounced those involved in these unlawful practices (5:7-9)! Prodding their seared consciences, he pleaded with them to stop and return what they had wrongfully taken (5:10-11). When they promised to conform, Nehemiah made them back up their promise with an oath, emphasizing how serious it was to break such a promise (5:12-13). Finally, Nehemiah set the example in his own personal life. Throughout his 12 years as governor he did not take any of his entitled food allowance because he knew that ultimately this came out of the pockets of the people (5:13-14). In fact, the daily food bills (which covered the needs of many people) and all the costs of diplomatic functions were paid out of Nehemiah's own pocket! Furthermore, he did not take advantage of his people by buying up their land at low prices. Nehemiah was no "Do as I say, not as I do" leader! He is an excellent role model for spiritual leaders today.
In Nehemiah 6 the enemy tried three forms of personal attack. Personal attack is usually the toughest and most subtle form of opposition. In verses 1-4 we see the temptation to compromise. The leaders of the surrounding enemy provinces proposed a "peace" conference on the Plain of Ono and invited Nehemiah. Certainly talk is better than war! But the Plain of Ono was a day's journey from the wall and sandwiched on a narrow strip of land between the enemy provinces of Samaria and Ashdod. The enemy was hoping to get Nehemiah away from his God-given ministry of wall-building and do him harm (6:2). Nehemiah suspected foul play and said, "Oh no (!), I will not meet with the enemy on the Plain of Ono!" Notice that Nehemiah did not change his mind and decide that it must be God's will because the opportunity presented itself four times (6:4)! Sometimes Christians assume thatGod must be speaking when "opportunities" present themselves several times. This passage in Nehemiah is a good reminder that Satan is very crafty and persistent in his subtle personal attack.
In verses 5-7 the enemy's personal attack against Nehemiah took the form of open slander. The enemy threatened to send a letter to King Artaxerxes accusing Nehemiah not only of planning a rebellion but also of setting himself up as a king in Jerusalem. When we are falsely accused and slandered, we should follow the biblical model of Nehemiah. He flatly denied the false charge and left his case in the hands of God--and he continued to build (6:8-9)! Notice that he didn't waste a lot of time defending himself. What a lesson for us! The enemy is able to siphon off massive amounts of our time and spiritual energy if we stop our God-given work of spiritual wall building in order to waste time defending ourselves! Sometimes the rhetoric of self-defense even escalates to the point of revenge. In the meantime, a great deal of time and effort is lost from constructive work for the Lord. Why don't we just follow the scriptural pattern presented here--simply deny false charges and leave any mess in the hands of God? In the words of Romans 12:19, "Leave room for the wrath of God...I will repay, says the Lord." We don't have to take our own revenge! As God vindicated Nehemiah, so He will vindicate us against all slander and false charges.
Personal attack in the area of spiritual discernment is probably Satan's most subtle form of opposition. It is the most difficult to detect, and only a thorough knowledge of Scripture preserves us from falling in such an attack. In verse 10 we read that a prophet named Shemaiah suggested that Nehemiah set up administrative headquarters within the Temple. Here Nehemiah would be close to the wall and could direct operations effectively. Not only that, he would no longer be a "sitting duck" up on the wall--he would be safe from any "stray arrow" that just might happen to come his way! Did Nehemiah praise God for sending the kind prophet with such logical advice? No way! He perceived that Shemaiah was a false prophet hired by the enemy (6:12). How was Nehemiah able to perceive such a scheme? Nehemiah knew from the Word of God that only priests were allowed into the Temple--and Nehemiah was not a priest. Nehemiah knew that a strategy that broke God's Law could never be a strategy sent from God! How well do we know God's Word? Do we know it well enough to recognize and reject subtle ideas that are contrary to its teachings? Are we able to perceive Satan's personal attack in the area of spiritual discernment?
Because Nehemiah continually looked to God and successfully overcame all the obstacles and opposition he faced, the wall was completed in 52 days! That's less than two months--a tremendous accomplishment and testimony to what God can do through a fully committed believer. Let's follow the model of Nehemiah and, with God's help, overcome the hurdles of enemy obstacles and opposition as we faithfully build strong walls of Christian testimony.